This week, Steve Harvey, comedian extraordinaire and self-proclaimed expert on black love, saw his own personal life flung into the spotlight when his ex-wife posted a series of videos on YouTube airing her dirty laundry with the so-called “King of Comedy.”
Mary Shackelford was married to Harvey for ten years and has a child with him. The couple divorced back in 2005, but it looks like recent legal action taken by Harvey against Shackelford for allegedly ruining his chance to have a show on Oprah’s new television network has prompted her to take to the internet, where she has outlined in great and riveting detail the violations she feels she has suffered by his hands. The charges she makes in her videos range from petty to serious, including accusations that Harvey cheated on her repeatedly during their 10-year long marriage, had her evicted from her house, and turned her son against her.
Harvey’s current wife apparently found these accusations so insidious that she felt the need to retain an attorney, in particular to dispel the notion that she had been “the other woman” prior to marrying Harvey.
The plot is thickened because Harvey is, of course, author of Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man: What Men Really Think About Love, Relationships, Intimacy, and Commitment, a New York Times bestselling book aimed at “educating” black women on ways to find love by offering insights into the black male psyche. And though Harvey turned to his radio show Monday morning to deny his ex-wife’s allegations, many critics are already invariably billing this as a messy and unsavory public callout of a man who has made a career in part by selling advice on how to get and maintain black heterosexual love.
While it’s an understandable impulse to question whether a man who has been married three times, divorced twice, and publicly accused of mistreatment and infidelity can really offer much in the way of useful commentary on love and marriage, critics are wrong to do so.
Ms. Shackelford’s YouTube accusations and Harvey’s track record of divorce aren’t proof that Harvey isn’t fit to advise us on love; he was ill fit to begin with.
However damning these latest personal details prove to be, it’s the content of Harvey’s public philosophy on love that actually undermines and invalidates his authority. His views are ignorant, outdated, sexist, and woefully out of touch with modern black women, black men, and black love.
Steve (and a few others) could really benefit from an address on the State of our Black Unions:
Steve Harvey, members of the mainstream media, distinguished scientists, writers, and researchers, and fellow black Americans:
Today I want to begin by congratulating black women.
By all accounts, this generation of black women is one of the most well-educated, healthy, wealthy, and most successful ever. We’re representing from the boardroom to the Broadway stage. We’re starting our own television empires, we’re publishing bestselling novels, and we’re holding it down as athletes, activists, mothers, entrepreneurs, executives, housewives, and scientists. In short, we’re “doing big things”.
With these new levels of success have come new opportunities at self-improvement and happiness. We’re serving in the military at record numbers. We volunteer with our local churches. And though the gender gap persists, across nearly all income levels we’re more likely to donate to charity, and on average give more than our male counterparts when we do so.But if were to believe you or some others in the mainstream media, it might be hard to notice some of our accomplishments, as black women and as a black community.
Last year, Melissa Harris-Perry published an article criticizing you and your colleagues for framing low rates of marriage in the black community as a “black female problem” rather than a community issue. As Harris-Perry pointed out, male commenters and pundits like you, Steve Harvey, are often allowed to “pontificate about the ways that black women should behave” without challenging their own contributions to dialogue about sex, gender, love, and romance.
Harris-Perry was right. You divisively over-emphasize differences between the sexes, and downplay our similarities and mutual respect. You blatantly ignore that some of us are lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer. You imply that today’s black women need to get and keep a man by any means necessary, and at all costs, to find happiness, and that, regardless of our successes and accomplishments in life, we have to put them behind us to do so. And these accusations hurt not only women, but everyone in our community.
It’s no secret that black men and black women have had our differences and our struggles over the years. We’ve battled, in our homes, in our classrooms, in our workplaces, to find and define equal partnerships and respectful coexistence. And that’s a good thing. That’s what our new modern world demands. That’s what helps set us apart as a community, and what will help us grow stronger with time.
It’s laughable to think that anyone with such over-simplified views of black women and rigid, heteronormative, and frankly, outdated ideas about love and partnership could be dispensing viable dating advice, because the state of the black union is being revolutionized as we speak:
These days, women don’t “get and keep a a man”— people choose to stay together or they break up. Women aren’t either with a man or miserably single — they’re with other women, or dating, or choosing to abstain from a relationship for a variety of reasons. Women and men aren’t embroiled in some silly power games- there are no “winners” or “losers” in your made-up battle of the sexes. And women aren’t thinking or acting like men- they’re engaging the world around them as whole human beings, with sex and gender as just two characteristics of a full and complex being. Our relationships aren’t about manipulation and deceit. There’s compatibility and chemistry, choice and options, desire and fulfillment.
It’s not a utopia. In many ways were making it up as we go along. But you can be sure, it is a new world. Black feminist wonder Beverly Guy-Sheftall put it best when she encouraged the next generation of the black community to “abandon the scripts you hear and ask yourself, ‘What kind of life do I want to live?’”. As Guy-Sheftall put it, that is what constitutes liberation — defining your life for yourself.
That’s why your ignorant psychobabble doesn’t work on us. We’re not buying it. We’re thinking for ourselves, and defining love and partnership in terms of what works for us. Your gender wars have no power here.
And that’s the state of our union.